Former Marine Sniper Punished in Scandal Wins Again in Court

Former Marine Staff Sgt. Joe Chamblin (Photo via www.intoinfamy.com)
Former Marine Staff Sgt. Joe Chamblin (Photo via www.intoinfamy.com)

A military appeals court is standing by its decision to void the conviction of a Marine whose prosecution may have been tainted by influence from the commandant of the Marine Corps.

The United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals decided today it would not reconsider its November decision in the case of former Staff Sgt. Joe Chamblin, according to documents reviewed by Military.com.

Chamblin was one of a handful of Marine Corps scout snipers filmed urinating on Taliban corpses during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. The video spurred outrage when it was uploaded to YouTube in early 2012.

In total, eight Marines would face punishment in the fallout. Chamblin was sentenced in December 2012 to 30 days' confinement and demoted to sergeant for his participation, a sentence that would ultimately spell the end of his Marine Corps career.

But in November, five years after the initial sentence, NMCCA found that then-Commandant Gen. James Amos had taken a number of steps that would erode the public's trust in the fairness of Chamblin's trial.

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According to sworn testimony from then-Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, who was initially appointed to oversee the sniper prosecutions, Amos met with him and told him the defendants needed to be "crushed" for their actions.

Waldhauser said he did not plan to send all of the Marines to general court-martial, and Amos allegedly told Waldhauser he could have him removed from his oversight role. Shortly thereafter, Waldhauser was replaced by another general.

According to Waldhauser, Amos said at the time that he had "crossed the line" in his previous conversation and was removing Waldhauser as a remedy.

"The highest-ranking officer in the Marine Corps told [Waldhauser] that the appellant and his co-accused should be 'crushed,' " the court wrote in November. "This is an unusually flagrant example of [unlawful command influence]. We find that UCI this direct, and occurring at this level, is highly corrosive to public trust in this proceeding."

On Dec. 11, the government filed a motion asking the court to reconsider the ruling that overturned Chamblin's conviction, asking to submit documents, including an affidavit from retired Marine Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who took over supervision of the sniper cases from Waldhauser.

The decision released by NMCCA today denied the motion to attach, as well as the motion from the government for the court to reconsider the case, as a whole or through a panel.

In a 13-page document opposing the government's motion, a military lawyer for the defense, Navy Lt. Drew Austria, takes the government to task for producing new documents -- not brought to light during Chamblin's trial -- in its request to reconsider.

It also argued that evidence submitted by the government, including a Department of Defense Inspector General investigation that failed to substantiate UCI against Amos in 2014, was not binding on the court. It also argued that Chamblin's guilty plea during his criminal trial was not fully informed and voluntary because documents were allegedly withheld.

"The Government just made its case worse. Not better," the defense motion on behalf of Chamblin concludes. "Staff Sergeant Chamblin respectfully requests this Court deny the Government's Motion for En Banc/Panel Reconsideration."

Military.com did not review the documents submitted in the government's motion; a request for comment from the government, submitted after business hours, did not receive an immediate response.

Chamblin declined to comment on the court's decision. But John Dowd, an attorney who represented another Marine caught up in the sniper scandal, Capt. James Clement, and who now represents President Donald Trump, told Military.com the decision represented a massive win for the Marines caught up in the scandal.

At the time of the urination incident, the Marines had been completing a costly, and largely successful deployment.

One of the snipers punished in the scandal, Sgt. Rob Richards, had been on track to receive a Bronze Star. That award was sidelined after the video surfaced. Ultimately, Richards received a demotion, but secured a military retirement due to severe war wounds received on a previous deployment.

Richards died in 2014 at age 28 of drug toxicity to his prescription medication and received a military burial in Arlington Cemetery.

"I think if this sticks, if it becomes final, I think everything that happened to Joe and the snipers will be wiped off the record," Dowd said. "This is a huge win in so many ways."

The government has two months to decide whether to ask the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, or CAAF, the next-highest appellate court, to consider the case. For the military, CAAF is the final appellate step before the Supreme Court.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct a reference in the last paragraph to the amount of time the government has to appeal the decision. It is two months, not two weeks.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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